Cordia Harrington’s Playbook For Success

Today’s post is The Producer’s Point of View from our EntreLeadership Podcast producer Chris Mefford of my interview with Cordia Harrington.

Have you ever found yourself going through the motions, wishing someone would just define how to win at life, business or relationships? So many times in our lives, we’re told to be winners, be successful, be better, be something awesome. But no one ever says, “Here’s the recipe for winning, here’s how you do it.” This is possibly why so many of us fail to actually make our move to greatness.

One of the cool things I get to do every week, besides work with Chris LoCurto, is produce the EntreLeadership Podcast. I get to sit in the room and listen as some of the most successful, smartest and innovative business leaders in America explain how to win at life, business and relationships. They share their playbooks. As they speak, not only do I listen but I also write down their answers. I thought some of you might appreciate hearing a few of the highlights from these interviews.

Cordia Harrington

Yesterday, we talked with Cordia Harrington, CEO of the Tennessee Bun Company. Her business made more than $60 million last year.  She is easily one of my favorite leaders who we’ve interviewed.

Cordia’s story about the McDonald’s franchise she bought and how she took it from one of the worst to one of the top 50 is worth a listen. It’s both entertaining and amazing.  President George W. Bush said of her, “Risk-takers like Cordia create jobs and opportunities for their fellow citizens and show the world the power of the American dream.”

Here are just a few of the highlights on being a leader from Cordia:

  • We asked her about her mantra of “no is not an option!”  She was clear that “you must have the courage to be persistent and resourceful.”  I love this attitude. Often, as leaders, we can be persistent but not resourceful.  Thinking outside the box is as necessary as never giving up. To Cordia, they go hand in hand.
  • We also discussed some of the challenges that come with being a woman leader. Specifically, how do you handle dealing with male counterparts who have trouble giving a level of equality or respect in the conference room? Cordia said she learned to “be prepared, be the best and be prepared to be the best.” It can take time, but soon everyone will respect you and what you bring to the table.
  • When we asked her what types of things do you do to continually develop your leadership skills, she said exactly what many other leaders we’ve talked to say. “Surround yourself with sharp people and those willing to keep you straight and speak up and into your life. Read a book once a month with your leadership team.”
  • Cordia said the No. 1 key to being a successful leader is “coaching your team on how to solve problems, not simply doing it for them.”  She encourages her team to develop goals that are bigger than they think they can achieve.
  • Finally, when asked what advice she would give to a young leader getting started today—guidance she wished someone would have given to her—she had three points:
  1. Understand that problems are a training ground. You learn more from the trials you live through than any book you could read or class you take.
  2. Get involved with your peers. Working with your equals can help you grow faster.
  3. It truly is better to give than to receive.

And I think that’s a good way to start the new year. It truly is better to give than to receive.

Questions: How does Cordia’s story inspire you? What do you feel you can go out and accomplish? 




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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

44 thoughts on “Cordia Harrington’s Playbook For Success”

  1. Great stuff. As a leader it is easy to separate yourself from your team. Bringing them along with you is a powerful step to growth and opens the door for team success that much quicker.

  2. Wow! I needed this post today in the worst way. This post will be one I put in my “keep” folder to encourage me.

    Being a woman entrepreneur is not easy, not that I expected it to be; however it poses challenges I never dreamed I would face. Many times those challenges have made caused me to doubt myself because of the questions I receive from employees, clients, outsiders, and even my own friends. They brush off regulations, they have a disdain for order, they procrastinate, they have an “I don’t care attitude”, yet at the same time respect and appreciate the work ethic of me and my team, just feel they can’t live to those standards. It starts to make you feel like something is wrong with you. When they question why I have such high expectations out of myself and out of my team, and you provide the answers despite the response, digging in of the heels, the statements made: I strive for excellence because I won’t accept a mediocre mentality.

    Cordia’s story encourages me to be different! To stay strong! To provide excellence in everything.

      1. Misty, if it’s automatically logging you in then you need to clear your browser’s cache so it clears out your stored login information. It’s different for different browsers so just Google (Name of your browser) clear cache

    1. Misty, do you think it is your gender that makes it hard to be an entrepeneur, or do you think it is hard for everyone?

      1. I believe every entrepreneur faces challenges, however I firmly know that Woman face a different set of circumstances that create various challenges. Some of this is the difference between Venus & Mars, some of this though is directly related to how woman are perceived. I also believe that Woman are the “weaker vessel” just as God created us to be, and we will not fulfill a mans role the same way even if we are good at it. We are different creatures. I feel the more I work within those constraints and with the differences, the more successful I am at. That being said, there are times though it is plain tough. I don’t have it all figured out, it is a learning process, but I do believe that being a Woman Entrepreneur creates a different culture. More thoughts to you later on that friend!

        1. What do you mean weaker vessel? Where is that from? In this day and age I believe men have given women a run for their money on that label. There are more women execs in the Fortune 500 then men know. I believe a lack of a good male figure in a boys life is causing our men to be messes. Lack of drive. Lack of vision. Lack of desire. Thoughts?

          1. Hey Chris, Thanks for the question and opportunity to explain: What do I mean the weaker vessel? I Peter 3:7 is what I am referring to. Here are some other ways it is worded: Here are some additional thoughts I found interesting: Woman is from Man, which means created out of a Man. I believe we are equal in Gods eyes, but there are aspects we are not created equal and ways that in the design makes us approach business differently. I believe Proverbs 31 is a good example of a Woman Entrepreneur…she bought a field, she was thought of highly by the men at the gates, she rose up early, etc. Men have a different stamina then women. You are right, there are way more Woman Entrepreneurs than there used to be. That doesn’t mean we still don’t have a different or more complex set of challenges. As a client recently told me, many men will not take correction, instruction, advice, input, or assistance from a woman. We were discussing many differences between me vs other woman and between him as my client vs other clients. I truly believe the lack of Fathers, Male mentors, raising Boys to be Men…along with responsible Mothers, Female mentors, raising Girls to be Ladies is all aspects of things affecting our culture. But Men are meant to be the leader, head of the home, instructor…that doesn’t mean the help meet (us woman) are not just as needed, wanted, equal, necessary, strong, capable, faithful, responsible, driven, focused, or valued. It just means there are differences and we have to recognize them and work within them. I know what you are going to say…I can hear it now. Sounds like a guest post. LOL! What do you think of all this now that I have provided more clarification? Do you see it that way? Share your thoughts with me!

          2. From what little research I’ve done on that, I see the context of that verse being the body is the vessel, not the person. I think men have done a great job in interpreting verses to us that work in their favor. My former denomination is full of people interpreting scripture in a way that keeps women lower than men. But when I read those same scriptures, and spend some time discovering the context, I find it to not line up with their beliefs. So, for me, I agree that I’m much stronger in my vessel than most women. (I would hate to find one that I’m not…scary)

            As for the men who can’t take direction from women, they pride and ego is to big to handle it. Direction should be received from someone wiser than you. No matter their gender or age.

            As far as men being the leader, I’ve only found where they are supposed to be the spiritual leader. Jesus told us men to love our wives as He loved the church. He took on the worst beating in the world for the church. He didn’t tell the church to do what He said. He guided, instructed, taught, and loved. He wasn’t lenient, but He wasn’t a dictator either.

            I see guys always using the scripture, “wives submit to your husbands” to say they are the one in control. However, the Bible also says “husbands and wives submit one to one another.”

            All of this to say, I believe God made women WAY stronger than we think, and I hate to see when that strength and their talents are held down because of man’s opinion.

            But I’m just one guy with opinions on everything. 🙂 Thoughts?

  3. This was an amazing episode! I listened to it several times one right after the other (Traffic sucked today!) But you know, I just felt so overwhelmed. I’m a micro business owner and we’re experiencing a major slump right now. I really agree with Dave’s opening to the interview – namely: I am the one limiting my company’s growth, and I am the one who can turn things around.

    I know I need to be constantly reading and feeding my mind. I try to do that. But I feel lost sometimes and I just don’t know how to start moving forward to bring positive change.

    When you’re facing major business disaster – or severe financial distress, how do you take responsibility and take the right steps towards producing a recovery? We’ve been in business for over 6 years – and I know we can pull out again, I just don’t know how. I would love to hear more ‘in the trenches’ stories of how you guys manage and work through times of business disaster or difficulty. (Felt good to hear that I’m not the only one one, know what I mean? That even you guys had to change your game plan. )

    Help! And thank you for your work.

    1. Aaron, have you read Who Moved My Cheese? If not, get it. For us, when we go through tough times we try to focus on what’s working really well, what’s always worked, and what is bombing. Focus heavy on what’s working and if your cheese has been moved, what is it going to take to find new cheese?
      Remember that God wants you to succeed, so talk to him constantly. Also, don’t do what so many do by becoming a stressed out freak to your team. That will only hurt production.

      1. Chris how do you know “God wants you to succeed”? Doesn’t he let us fail sometimes because it can cause us to grow closer to Him? I’d love to believe and to know that He wants me to succeed, but the evidence isn’t very strong. Maybe I have the wrong definition of success. . .

        Sorry for sounding like a bummer-head, Aaron. I’m needing truth and Scripture to back it, because I feel as you do. . .

        I will listen to the podcast while I draw today! (and yes, I’ve read the cheese book)

        1. I agree cabinart. Failure is sometimes part of the deal, and on purpose to help us grow closer to God. (And to just plain grow!!) And yes, I do need to focus more attention on my relationship with God. Honestly: it sometimes gets trampled on, and it cannot be like that if I want to be whole and really and truly successful.

          Success: I once heard someone say that you need to figure out your own version of it is.

          For sure God has things to say on what HE thinks is success or ‘life’ (one definition that I can think of off the top of my noggin: ‘Real life comes from knowing Him. — success. Vice versa…not knowing Him is not success in His eyes.. )

          I wonder though…if we think about what our version of success is – one of mine is that I have and make time to be with my wife and kids each day – QUALITY TIME – when I do that, to me I’m successful.

          I guess what I mean to say is, if you don’t know what your version of it is, you’re likely living on what someone else decided theirs was. (Or worse: what society says it should be….)

          And if our version is influenced and shaped and in agreement with what God’s version is…..
          And if it’s not in line….we have some overhauling to do, I think.

          Looking for Evidence that God wants you to succeed: sounds like you’re feeling discouraged. (Right there with you!) But I do know that He is for me.

          One of my personal favorites: Psalm 1. — why would God put that in there if He didn’t want me to be like a tree planted by living water, which gives its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither?

          And again, you’re right: relationship with Him is of utmost importance. But so is what we think about….(talking to myself here too….)

          Sincerely hope this was on the right track for you….

          1. One of my favorite verses when I am struggling at feeling God is on my side, wants me to be successful, understands what I am facing, has given me the strength…”If God is for me, who can be against me?” Romans 8:31 May I encourage you to find one that resonates with you and cling to it. Put it on your dashboard. On the mirror in the bathroom. By your bed on the end table. On a 3×5 Card in your bible. As a rolling screen saver message when your laptop goes idle. Put it everywhere to encourage you and give you strength!

          2. Thank you, it is on the right track. I am so happy in my work, which is successful in anyone’s book. I am so tired of being poor, which is Loserland in the world’s book. I wonder what Cordia would say. She is fabulous!

          3. I think it’s all about being content. If you’re happy where you are, fabulous! If not, reinvent yourself till you are. I have a feeling you’re doing just fine. 🙂

        2. You are God’s most precious possession. He gave us a complete book to follow to make us succeed because he loves us more than anything else. Does He allow us to fail? Absolutely. It does grow us closer to Him if we see He has a better plan. But does He WANT us to fail, no way! He just knows we will since we are a fallen people. But He’s not there trying to MAKE us fail. He’s there waiting with arms wide open ready to catch us when it happens.

      2. Wow, thanks for replying Chris ! I will look for the ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ – heheh, actually it’s on my amazon wishlist for kindle. So I’ll just grab it. Thanks for the tip. I guess one thing I felt or though (both) as I listened to Dave talking at the start of the podcast was: so I know I’m the problem, and I know I’m the solution (thank God there’s a solution!!!) But I’m just not sure which direction to step out in to begin workin the solution, you know? Overwhelmed!!!

        I also liked the ‘mastermind’ group. (Or perhaps I’m bringing that in from a previous episode) but I’ve just been thinking about how much I would appreciate being part of a community of leaders/business operators where I could just reach out for support – and offer it if possible. Have you any thoughts (or anyone else reading this) on how to build one if you don’t have one?

        Since I’ve started listening to these podcasts, I have felt inspired to work closer with my team, and focus harder on developing together with them…not me all by myself. I started as a solopreneur…but that’s no longer the case! (Not easy to realize and walk out!!)

        I do honestly believe that God wants me to succeed, and I sure have been talking to Him about this stuff….and trying to listen. Re: cabinart’s comment – YES!!! I do believe God wants me to succeed, but I do believe that He wants me closer than I have been. That’s always the case!

        Thank you for this chance to share….and thank you for taking the time to help with your comment. 🙂

        1. There are many places to be able to find mastermind groups…have you tried The Chamber of Commerce sometimes knows of groups too. Ask friends, colleagues, etc. Some are free, some cost. You could always ask around to other business owners and start your own! I wish you the best at finding a group that is a fit for you. Personally, I find if they get too big, it gets to hard to maintain and reap the benefits.

        2. Not knowing your personal situation, it hard for me to say what the first step should be. But putting a master mind group together can really help. You just need to find leaders who are winning at what they are doing. People you trust and respect. People that eventually you can allow to bust on you personally.
          If you know some, great. If not, here’s where the networking starts.

  4. Well, I haven’t listened to the podcast yet – but obviously it is one I must not miss! I love listening to a great success story – and as I read once – “success leaves clues”……

  5. I groaned aloud when you asked Ms. Harrington about balancing family and career. “As a woman,” I recognize that women and men are different, but would you ever ask a man that same question? By bringing up issues like this, I believe you further the stereotype that women are somehow less accomplished or less committed to their careers. Isn’t it time we stopped doing that?

    Cordia Harrington was so gracious in her answers “as a woman,” but I won’t continue to enjoy the podcasts if these kinds of questions continue to pop up.

    1. LouAnn, I think you must have missed the entire section where I discussed how being raised by a single mom I have the utmost appreciation for what women have accomplished in spite of stereotypes. As well as how difficult it has been for women due to the stereotypes that men have placed on them. I’m sorry you felt that way, but I think you missed the fact that I was showing how difficult it has been on women due to those stereotypes.
      McDonald’s wasn’t allowing women to do what she did when she did it. She pushed past all of the male crap that was involved to get to where she is. I’m sorry you didn’t get the same from the interview. We’ve had tons of compliments from both men and women on that interview. In fact, possibly the most we’ve ever had.

      1. Chris, I did hear that section and understand where you were coming from. My point was that you asked Ms. Harrington about balancing work/family, when I have never heard that question asked of a man. Yes, things were different. I was there; I remember. To continue to ask that question only of women in 2012 shows how little our biases have changed. I haven’t listened to the most recent podcast yet, but maybe someday you will ask a man how he balances work and family.

        1. Unfortunately, the biases haven’t changed enough!! I am one of those who hates that. Come to EntreLeadership Master Series and you’ll hear a breakout where we discuss it from a man’s point of view; Dave’s.
          I’m glad you came back to comment. Stick around, I promise you won’t be let down. 🙂

  6. Whoa! I must have been sleeping and missed this great discussion. Awesome conversations going on here!! I absolutely enjoyed the interview. She is such a neat lady! Down-to-earth, totally open about her life story and her success. Nothing other than good, old-fashioned, hard w-o-r-k that most people are not willing to do.

    As far as the male/female issue, we can go on and on and on. I see her as a successful PERSON who overcame adversity and pushed through the challenges in her life. I am aware of the difficulties faced in a mostly-male world and the distortion that it creates. I come from a culture where men rule and that’s that.

    We may have different definitions of success, but I view it as fully utilizing your G0d-given talents and skills and giving it all you have to serve those around you: family, coworkers, team members, church, community. If you’re using your gifts and changing the world around you in a small scale or large scale, you are successful in God’s eyes. Jesus died rejected by his people, denied by his friends and a criminal in everyone’s eyes. His followers hid in fear and his message was apparently lost. Talk about failure by our standards!! Did he change the world? Absolutely!

    I shared on my blog how my former pastor and close family friend was brutally murdered on January 28th. The multiple comments that have been posted on-line about him are overwhelming. He was not especially kind or easy to get along with (and I say this with lots of love for him), but people just loved him because of what he did for us as a leader. He failed in the human sense by having his life taken away in an untimely and violent way. He succeeded in God’s eyes by having changed people’s lives and hearts.

    Of course we will feel discouraged, overwhelmed and defeated. Who is alive that doesn’t? God tells us to not be afraid 365 times in the Bible (so you can repeat that to yourself every day). Turn your dreams, goals and fears to Him.

    ” Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
    Joshua 1:9

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